INMO demands passage of bill giving health watchdog greater powers

INMO General Secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha

RESPONDING to the latest inspection reports by health watchdog HIQA, including a report into the emergency department (ED) at University Hospital Limerick (UHL), the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation has called on the government to fast-track the Patient Safety (Licensing) Bill to give HIQA more powers.

A report published by HIQA this past week following an unannounced inspection of the UHL ED last November, claimed that patient safety is still an issue in the overcrowded environment.

Responding to the report, Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said that “the powers of HIQA need to go further than inspection and comment”.

“Government must now publish and prioritise the passing of the Patient Safety (Licensing) Bill which would give HIQA the powers to ensure its recommendations are being enacted by individual hospitals and healthcare settings it inspects.”

She noted that the UHL report confirmed that patients receive kind and compassionate care from the healthcare workers they interact with. But added that “it is clear that the conditions that they are working in are out of their control”.

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“Recommendations by HIQA should not just be words on a page, if government are serious about improving the safety of patients and healthcare workers, they must fast-track the passing of the very important Patient Safety (Licensing) Bill.”

The HIQA report found that an Emergency Medicine Early Warning System (EMEWS) had not been implemented at the time of the inspection, noting that such a system is “vital” to recognise when patients are deteriorating and allow staff to respond in good time.

The new report comes in the wake of one of the hospital’s own emergency medicine consultants, Dr Jim Gray, describing the ED as “a death trap” while giving evidence at the inquest into the death of 16-year-old Aoife Johnston at UHL.

The HIQA report – following the inspection on November 21 last – notes improvements since the previous two UHL inspections, but noted the “continuous state of escalation in the emergency department is unsustainable”.

Inspectors found 35 patients waiting in the emergency department for admission to a bed, and 19 on trolleys in corridors. Staff, the report said, “were actively engaging with patients in a kind and respectful manner”.

Overall, the ED was found to be functioning better than the previous inspection in March 2022, but HIQA said that increased capacity is needed.

A statement from the UL Hospitals Group (ULHG) welcomed the report, saying that it “confirms a slow but steady improvement in overall compliance”.

The group said the improvement is attributable to “increases in staffing levels, the introduction of new care pathways, and strengthened governance arrangements”.

However, ULHG acknowledged that one area of non-compliance related to patient safety and dignity “in the context of the severe and persistent overcrowding in our ED”.

“Overcrowding continues to represent a patient safety risk and we are committed to working with the Authority and with all other stakeholders in addressing this through a combination of additional resources and further reforms.”